Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Each season, January 5th marks a momentous occasion on the D-League calendar because NBA teams can begin signing players to 10-day contracts. For the teams at hand, it gives them a chance to evaluate players who have impressed over the first half of the D-League season with little-to-no risk involved. For the players, it’s their opportunity to showcase their talent on the big stage in the hope of parlaying it into a guaranteed roster spot.
Teams can sign individuals to two 10-day contracts, each based on a prorated portion of the league minimum ranging from $29,834 for rookies to $53,837 for two-year players. Following that, they must make a decision to either part ways with the player or retain them for the remainder of the season.
Although guaranteed deals are few and far between, 22 of the 37 players who received a call-up last season went on to receive lucrative contracts in the NBA or overseas. For the ones who do get a chance to strut their stuff with the big lights shining down on them, a 10-day contract can change the course of their entire career.
To get a better idea of who is likely to receive a 10-day contract over the coming weeks and months, below is a breakdown of nine players who have each established themselves as a top prospect in the D-League in the first half of the season.
Seth Curry — Erie BayHawks
Season statistics: 26.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.2 turnovers, 1.4 steals on 51.9% FG and 52.7% 3PT
Curry asserted himself as one of the elite guards in the D-League last season. This season, as a member of the Erie BayHawks, he’s taken a gargantuan leap forward. Playing alongside Peyton Siva has moved him back to his more natural position, to which he’s responded by putting up gaudy numbers in the scoring column. His 26.3 points per game rank him second in the D-League, and he’s doing so very efficiently. The former Duke Blue Devil is shooting 58.6 percent at the rim, 50.8 percent from midrange, and 52.7 percent from the perimeter — all impressive marks considering he creates most of his scoring opportunities himself.
In eight games since returning from an injury that sidelined him for nearly two weeks, Curry has taken his game to another level. He has scored 30 or more points on four occasions, highlighted by a 43-point outburst against the Delaware 87ers on January 2nd. He is the most dynamic scorer remaining in the D-League now that Manny Harris and Kevin Murphy have taken their games overseas.
Brady Heslip — Reno Bighorns
Season statistics: 27.7 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 turnovers on 49.0% FG and 50.0% 3PT
There isn’t a purer shooter in the D-League than Heslip. If he were to stick around with the Reno Bighorns — something that seems unlikely given that he recently flirted with the idea of heading overseas — he’d shatter the record for three-pointers made in a season. The sheer volume at which Heslip is making perimeter shots (7.1 per game) is mind-boggling. More impressive, however, is that he’s knocked them down at a 50 percent clip through 13 games.
Heslip is a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body, which is why playing alongside a playmaker at the next level would do him wonders. Rumor has it that the Los Angeles Clippers are toying with the idea of calling-up the sharpshooter, in which case he’d share the court with the likes of Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford, both of whom can create their own shot and that for others. That would enable Heslip to play off the ball and stick to what he does best — space the floor. When he’s allowed to roam around the perimeter and spot-up on the fast break, he’s a handful. Heslip has already converted on nine three-pointers or more in four games this season.
Elijah Millsap — Bakersfield Jam
Season statistics: 20.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 4.1 turnovers, 2.1 steals on 44.2% FG and 33.9% 3PT
When it comes to attacking the basket, nobody in the D-League does it better than Millsap. Nearly 75 percent of his made shots this season have come within five-feet of the basket and he draws plenty of fouls doing so, currently averaging 11.1 free throw attempts per 48-minutes. To go along with that offensive prowess, Millsap is a ballhawking defender. He is given the nightly assignment of guarding the opposing team’s most potent scorer. Brady Heslip had his worst shooting game of the season against Millsap, as did the Los Angeles D-Fenders’ Manny Harris.
Millsap has played the role of faciliator for much of the season with the Jam, and it’s led to varying results. His 5.2 assists per game speaks volumes of his playmaking ability, but the high rate in which he’s turning the ball over leaves room for concern. As a result, he will likely play the two-guard in the NBA, even though he has proven capable of commanding an offense. Millsap struggles with his jump shot at times, too, but has developed into an average three-point shooter over the years.
Elliot Williams — Santa Cruz Warriors
Season statistics: 21.3 points, 7.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 3.4 turnovers, 1.7 steals on 46.6% FG and 38.6% 3PT
There aren’t many players who can impact a game in the multitude of ways that Williams can. The hyper-athletic guard carries the bulk of the offensive load for the West Division-leading Santa Cruz Warriors. In the process, he leads all shooting guards in assists per game and is sixth in the league in scoring. Now that Joe Alexander has parted ways with the Warriors, there is even more pressure on Williams to keep them afloat.
The biggest aspect of Williams’ game that is holding him back is his ability to consistently space the floor. He’s made just 36 of the 134 jump shots he’s attempted this season, more than half of which have come from the perimeter. Nevertheless, he’s proven the ability to create for himself and others, scoring 25 or more points in four games this season and dishing out double-digit assists in three. He uses a quick first step and long strides to get to the basket and does a formidable job of finding open teammates once the defense collapses.
The trio of Williams, James Michael McAdoo and Aaron Craft has helped the Warriors become one of the best defensive teams in the D-League. Their defensive rating of 98.6 is currently ranked second, barely trailing the league-leading Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
Quincy Miller — Reno Bighorns
Season statistics: 25.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.9 steals, 2.0 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 1.4 turnovers on 49.3% FG and 36.7% 3PT
Miller has only played in eight games with the Reno Bighorns but he’s come out of the gates blazing. He recorded 25 points in his first game in a Bighorns uniform and has scored at least 30 points three times since. He’s averaging a shade under a point per minute and doing so efficiently. He’s also ranked third in blocks and 11th in steals, showcasing his ability to be a force defensively.
The biggest reason that the Denver Nuggets parted ways with Miller after only two seasons was that he struggled with consistency, especially on the offensive end. In Reno, he’s proving the ability to knock down perimeter shots with regularity and is developing more into the 3-and-D player he was projected to be coming out of the draft. He’s finally healthy after tearing his ACL as a senior in high school, and he appears ready as ever for his second opportunity in the NBA.
Two-way players are a hot commodity in the NBA today, and Miller certainly fits the bill.
James Michael McAdoo — Santa Cruz Warriors
Season statistics: 17.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 2.0 assists, 1.9 steals on 58.5% FG and 73.0% FT
Once projected as an NBA lottery pick, McAdoo saw his stock plummet after two underwhelming years at the University of North Carolina. Now, however, the forward has proven himself as one of the most tantalising prospects in the D-League, emerging as a walking double-double and a defensive stud for a loaded Santa Cruz Warriors team.
What’s most impressive about McAdoo is his ability to make plays on both ends of the court. He’s currently ranked third in blocks and seventh in steals, all the while putting up good scoring numbers. While still fine tuning his offensive game — he’s just 12-for-49 on jump shots this season, which if improved would open up the floor tremendously for him — McAdoo is capable of attacking the basket, scoring out of the post, and finishing plays in transition. His athleticism and versatility have seen him emerge as a mismatch on a nightly basis, and he’s become a consistent threat for the Warriors.
JaMychal Green — Austin Spurs
Season statistics: 22.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.8 blocks, 1.0 steals on 56.0% FG and 82.2% FT
The best scoring big man in the D-League, Green has become a devastating pick-and-pop option for the Austin Spurs. Although slightly undersized for his position, his quick release and long arms help him shoot over the outstretched arms of defenders. Through 15 games, Green has knocked down a total of 40 midrange shots, making them at a 47.6 percent clip. He is capable of putting the ball on the floor and finishing at the rim, too, making him a tough cover on any given night. That has translated to him scoring at least 20 points in all but three games so far this season.
After going undrafted in 2012, Green has established himself as the most polished big man in the D-League over the last two seasons. While there’s not much else he can do offensively to earn a call-up, he continues to impress on the defensive end, where he has become an elite rebounder and above-average shot blocker.
Khem Birch — Sioux Falls Skyforce
Season statistics: 13.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steals on 67.1% FG and 66.7% FT
Birch finds himself as one of the top prospects in the D-League due in large part to his ability to hold down the paint. The 6-foot-9 big man has blocked 44 shots on the season, trailing only Eric Griffin for the most in the D-League. He has blocked four or more shots in five games, and has been deadly guarding the pick-and-roll.
While Birch is still finding his feet as a scorer, he’s made significant strides as the season has progressed. He attacks the offensive glass relentlessly, and his great hands make him a scary target off the ball. The majority of his made baskets have been assisted around the painted area, where he’s used his length and athleticism to capitalise on the opportunities. He’s not afraid to run the floor, either, making him a one-man wrecking crew in the open court.
Willie Reed — Grand Rapids Drive
Season statistics: 14.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals on 70.3% FG and 47.4% FT
Reed has dominated the D-League circuit over the last two seasons and is simply waiting for the right opportunity to prove himself in the NBA. Since joining the Drive in late November, he has recorded a double-double in nine of the 14 games he’s appeared in. More importantly, after starting the season 0-and-3, the Drive are 10-and-4 with Reed in uniform. He’s made a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor, emerging as the team’s x-factor as they’ve climbed their way up the Central Division standings.
Reed might not be someone teams can look to for production in the scoring column on a consistent basis but he has a never-say-die attitude that when combined with his motor and athleticism has seen him become one of the best big men in the D-League. He can run the floor, crash the boards, finish plays with authority, and protect the rim. Playing hard has never been an issue for Reed.